Wednesday 28 September 2011

Beyond the Cosmo

The use of vodka in the higher tiers of the bartending world is widely frowned upon.  Seen as an easy way out of crafting a cocktail.  By definition vodka is odorless and tasteless.  Nothing more than boozy water.  Vodka adds nothing to a cocktail, but, it also doesn't take anything anyway for a cocktail.  Making a cocktail with an abundant amount of Campari, Fernet, orange bitters or any other powerfully potent ingredient can be slightly challenging.  Not wanting to skimp on the hard stuff your first reaction maybe to grab a bottle of gin or bourbon to balance things out.  One draw back to this is running the risk over complicating a drink.  Often do I see a drink on a cocktail menu with seven or more ingredients, only to have four of those ingredients contributing to the taste.  Vodka helps to avoid tangling too many flavors into one drink by acting as a support for other flavors to showcase their qualities

Here are three recipes that utilize vodka as a base to convey other flavors at the forefront of the drink.

High Fashioned
- 0.75 oz Vodka
- 0.75 oz Angostura Bitters
- 0.5 oz Fernet Branca
- 0.25 oz Honey

- Add all ingredients to mixing glass
- Add ice and stir
- Strain into chilled rocks glass filled with ice
- Garnish with flamed orange zest

Fernet Branca and Angostura have enough complexity on their own that the addition of bourbon, cognac or any other spirit would just over cluster the flavor profile.  Vodka works in this drink to slightly stretch out the flavors of these two potent bitters without cutting back on the alcohol content.

Fatal Tragedy
- 1.5 oz Vodka
- 1 oz Rose Sparkling Wine
- 0.5 oz Regan's Orange Bitters
- 0.5 oz Lychee Liqueur 
- 0.25 oz Honey Cinnamon Syrup*
- 0.25 oz Lemon Juice
- 1/2 inch Cucumber 

- Muddle cucumber at the bottom of mixing glass
- Add all ingredients excluding wine to cocktail shakers
- Add ice and shake
- Double Strain into chilled cocktail glass
- Add rose sparkling wine
- No garnish necessary  

With six already present flavors, vodka's role in the Fatal Tragedy is to support the flavors and not outshine them.  A whopping half ounce of orange bitters is slightly dulled by the addition of vodka.  The remaining liquor and mixes make for a wonderfully refreshing cocktail.

Milan Sour
- 1.5 oz Campari
- 1 oz Vodka
- 0.75 oz Lemon Juice
- 0.5 oz Thyme Syrup**
- 10 Basil Leaves
- 2 Dashes Orange Bitters
- 1 Egg White

- Add egg white to cocktail shaker
- Add all remaining ingridents to cocktail shaker
- Dry Shake
- Add ice and shake extra hard to pulverize basil leaves
- Double Strain into Chilled cocktail glass
- Garnish with one basil leaf

Milan Sour
Aside from cocktails, vodka does have other useful attributes.  Vodka's neutral nature makes for a blank canvas in which to create any spirit of your choosing:  Strawberry, lavender, jalapeno, cinnamon or any flavor you can imagine.  A full bog post of alcoholic infusions is planned for mid october.

High proof vodka is also perfect for creating your own bitters.  I suggest taking a look at Jamie Bourdreau's immersive guide to creating your own bitters.

Lastly I'd just like to say that this blog post is by no means law.  Try a Milan Sour with gin or a High Fashioned with bourbon, then, with vodka.  From there determine what works for you.  This blog post is merely to give people ideas of what to do with vodka.  Vodka should not be a bartenders nemesis, but nor should an entire cocktail menu be based around it.  Use vodka as a tool.  A tool to introduce people to gin, and a tool to showcase flavors not found in any distilled spirit.

Next month's blind tasting will include eight vodkas to once again, distinguish the differences between quality and marketing.  As well as a look into how vodka is traditionally drank.

Syrup Recipes

 Honey Cinnamon Syrup *
- 1 Cup Honey
- 1 Cup Water
- 6-8 Cinnamon Sticks (Or to desired taste)

- Simmer mixtures over medium heat for 10 minutes while constantly stirring
- Stir until even consistently until has been achieved
- Remove from heat and let cool
- Bottle in fridge for up to one month

Thyme Syrup **
- 1 Cup Water
- Hand full of thyme (rough estimate)
- Sugar (Amount will be determined after the first 3 steps)

- Add one cup of water and thyme to pot
- Boil on medium heat for 15 minutes until water is a light green
- Strain off water and discard thyme
- Add equal parts thyme water and sugar to a pot
- Simmer over low heat until all the sugar has dissolved
- Remove from heat and let cool
- Bottle in fridge for up to one month

Sunday 25 September 2011

Mixology Monday: Local Colors

The first Mixology Monday of fall is hosted by Lindsay of Alcohol Alchemy.  Lindsay has chosen the theme of local flavor.  An opportunity for everyone to showcase the great locals spirits being made in our own backyards.

Pull out your favorite “local” craft spirit (for those of you not in the US, what hidden gem from your neck of the woods do you want to give some cocktail press?), tell us a little bit about it and why you love it, and let it shine in whichever way (or ways!) you see fit! 
Here in Victoria we are pretty spoiled for local selection: gin, tea, coffee and the combined total of nearly a dozen brewpubs and breweries makes for no shortage of libations.  Monthly festivals celebrating food and drink of all variety help to solidify the presents of the great local product available in Victoria.  My cocktail for this Mixology Monday will utilize products from three of my favorite local companies.

Located in Canada's oldest china town is Silk Road.  Known in Victoria for their massive selection of organic tea.  From classics like lapsang sochoug to creative blends like my personal favorite ruby pagoda, a blend of: roobios, hibiscus flower, rosehip, rose petal, citrus peel and pink peppercorn.  A favorite flavoring ingredient of mine in syrups is tea.  By brewing a pot of tea and using it in place of water for simple syrup will yield wonderful results.

Host to the annual Great Canadian Beer Festival, it is no wonder that Victoria has such a vibrant beer culture.  Craft beer has been a part of Victoria's community since 1984 when Vancouver Island Brewery began brewing beer with 100% local products.  27 years later, Victoria is now home to three other beloved breweries; Lighthouse, Driftwood and Philips.  Phillips is to the beer world as Willy Wonka is to the candy world.  Quirky and unique seasonal releases ensure that a flux of Philips beer is ever flowing through the local liquor stores.  Including Philips' summer release of its raspberry wheat ale.  A luscious wheat beer with a fresh raspberry taste and color, a perfect match for our next local product.

Last on the list of Victoria's very own artisan companies is Victoria Spirits.  Home to Canada's first premium gin -Victoria Gin-  Victoria Spirits crafts a multitude of spirits including: gin, barrel aged gin, orange bitters, whisky (currently a work in progress) and a variety of eau de vie.  Victoria Gin is a small batch product with a lovely floral nose and a strong citric backbone.  Although juniper is noticeably present, it is not over powering.  While a consistent product is attempted to be maintained with Victoria Gin, every batch has some small characteristic twists.  To read more about the wonderful work being put into motion at Victoria Spirits read this blog post I did a few months back highlighting this local craft distillery.  Victoria Spirits Tour

The Last Rose
- 2 oz Victoria Gin
- 1 oz Phillips Raspberry Wheat Ale
- 0.75 oz Lemon Juice
- 0.5 oz Ruby Pagoda Tea Syrup
- 2 Dashes Victoria Orange Bitters

- Add all ingredients excluding beer to cocktail shaker
- Add ice and shake
- Double Strain into chilled cocktail glass
- Top with Phillips Raspberry Wheat Ale
- Garnish with rose pedal

Thanks to Lindsay of Alcohol Alchemy for hosting this month's Mixology Monday, as well as all participants that make every MxMo an enjoyable time.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Mixology and Home Bartending for Beginners: Ingredients

In this blog post I want to talk about some of the key elements that go into the drinks we all love.  When we think of our favorite cocktail, it is the alcohol contained in that specific drink that we tend to focus on.  Often forgotten are those other indispensable ingredients such as juices, syrups, bitters and ice.  A cocktail without any of the latter would not be a beverage I would not want to indulge in.  So for this post in my mini-series for beginner mixologists and home bartenders I will be highlighting the following topics; fruit juice, syrups, dairy products, bitters and ice.

Fruit Juice
That old saying "fresh is best" could not be more relevant than with fruit juice.  Leave the bottled OJ for breakfast.  You will need to purchase a hand juicer for your citrus juice.  For juice that requires a more of a labor intensive procedure to extract the juice, organic bottled juice will Suffice.  If you're set on sourcing all your juice fresh,  peel, chop, puree, and strain the juice through a fine mesh strainer.  Be sure to use fresh juice as soon as possible.  Fresh juice starts to show its age well with in an hour, so be sure to use up all your juice with in a time period of at least two hours.

One of the four primary ingredients of the classic cocktail (Spirit, Sugar, Water, Bitters) syrups can be found in classics like the Toronto and Mint Julep.

You'll often come across a cocktail recipe calling for "simply syrup" which is simply, water and sugar.  Don't waste your money on store bought simple syrup, it can be produced at home for a fraction of the price.  Place equal parts sugar and water in a pot over medium heat until all the sugar has thoroughly dissolved.  Let mixture cool then bottle and keep refrigerated.  Home made simple syrup should last upwards of one month.  If a recipe calls for "rich simply syrup" just increase the amount of sugar to 2 parts sugar, 1 part water.

Syrups have evolved past the simple to more complex with flavors ranging from straightforward fruit to complicated concoctions of herbs and various spices.  Adding fresh fruit, herbs, spices, tea and nearly any desired flavor can take a great drink up a notch.  Included below is recipes for three syrups that are my personal favorites.

Dairy Products can become a topic of discomfort for some people unfamiliar with the lack of health concerns associated with raw eggs and dairy products.  There is not much of a concern associated with dairy such as cream and milk, but when raw eggs begin taking up room in the cocktail shaker, that is when the problems begin.  The facts are simple, the percentage of coming in contact with a egg containing salmonella is a 0.0003% chance. Remembering that salmonella is - generally- only present on the outside of the shell, so a gentle bath in warm water and mild soap will dramatically reduces these chances even more.  You have a far better chance of dying in a car accident (1 in 18 000) then dying from salmonella.  I will not stop driving because of a small chance of death and I certainly won't stop enjoying a pisco sour either.

When using an egg white in cocktails always add the egg white to your cocktail shaker first.  This will ensure that you don't ruin the entire drink incase the yolk breaks.  Before adding your ice and shaking like you would for any other shaken cocktail, add the spring from your hawthorn strainer and shake the ingredients without ice for approximately  20-30 seconds.  The spring will act like a whisk and help froth up the egg white.  Then remove the spring, add your ice and shake.  Alternatively us a cappuccino frothier to mix the drink before shaking.  Whisk drink for 30 seconds before adding ice.  This procedure involves less mess, as egg whites tend to build pressure in a cocktail shaker without ice.  Over time the seal may begin to break slightly, which can result in a sticky mess.

When it comes to cocktail ingredients, nothing is more misunderstood then bitters.  While bitters are exactly what their name describes; bitter, its presents in moderation will not make a drink bitter.  Bitters are used in small dashes and drops to add an extra layer of depth to a libation.  An easy culinary comparison to bitters is spices.  A spoon full of paprika is just as appealing as a glass of angostura bitters.  Three dashes of grapefruit bitters to a Margarita or a dash of orange bitters in a dry martini makes a world of difference in the final product.

Here is a drink that utilizes all the above ingredients.

Pisco Sour
- 2 oz Pisco
1 oz Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
- 0.5 oz Simple Syrup
- 1 Egg White
- 2-3 Dashes Angostura Bitters

- Add egg white to mixing tin
- Add pisco, simple syrup and lime juice to mixing glass
- Shake with no ice for 30 seconds
- Add ice and shake for 15 seconds
- Double Strain into chilled cocktail glass
- Add 2-3 gentle dashes of angostura bitters atop of cocktail's foam

Pisco Sour

For over 200 years ice has been an expected ingredient in nearly all cocktails.  Ice is to a bartender as fire is to a chief.  Without ice a mixologist's options are limited to few drinks beyond the hot toddy, blue blazer and other scalding concoctions.  Before assuming any old ice will do when assembling a cocktail there are several key factors to consider.  Water quality, ice size and where the ice has been stored.

The higher the purity of water the less undesired flavors will be imparted into the cocktail.  When comparing a cocktail made with ice using tap water to a cocktail made with filter water ice cubes there is a noticeable difference is quality.  Filtered water is an absolutely fine source for your ice.  While distilled water may be purer it is more expensive and impractical for large scale use.

Where you store your ice can negatively influence flavor into your ice.  Storing your ice adjacent to your frozen salmon and broccoli will not resolute in ice fit for stirring an Old-Fashioned.  If possible store your ice in a freezer containing only ice, glassware and any desired alcohol.  If this is not an option package your ice in zip-lock bags furthest away from any particularly pungent smelling foods.  Use the oldest ice first.  The longer the ice sits in your freezer the more likely unwanted orders will impart it's self into the ice.

The last factor to consider when choosing the proper ice for you cocktail is the size of your ice.  I group ice sizes into four categories;  crushed, cracked, cubed and custom.

Crushed is a key ingredient in classics such as the Mint Julep and Mai Tai.  Crushed ice is idea for tiki and other tropical tipples.  The easiest and most cost effective way of making crushed ice is by using a lewis bag.  A lewis bag is a canvas bag in which you place your ice in.  Next comes the fun part, with a hammer or mallet take out your frustrations on the ice filled lewis bag.

Cracked ice is simply cubed ice that has been cracked with the back of a bar spoon.  This creates a larger surface area which speeds up chilling and dilution.  Cracked ice is idea for stirring a classic cocktail or use in highballs like the Tom Collins or Mamie Taylor.

Cubed ice is just regular ice extracted from your ice cub tray.  Cubed ice is best used for shaking a cocktail as well as serving short cocktails on the rocks.

Custom ice includes over sized cubes, ice spheres and any other configuration of ice out of the norm.  Custom ice is idea for stiffer drinks like the Old-Fashioned and Vieux Carre.  The large surface area of a ice sphere will dilute a drink slower while still keeping it at a desirable temperature.  You can purchase a mold for ice spheres at

Honey Cinnamon Syrup
- 1 Part Organic Pure Honey
- 1 Part Water
- 5 - 7 cinnamon sticks

- Add all ingredients in a pot over medium heat for 5-10 mixture stirring constantly to stop mixture from boiling over.  Once an even consistently is achieved let cool, bottle and refrigerate.  

Raspberry Syrup
- 1 Cup Fresh Raspberries
- 1 Cup Sugar
- 1/2 Cup of Water

- Add sugar and water in a pot over low heat.  Stir until sugar has completely dissolved into water.  Then add raspberries to mixture.  Press raspberries until no whole raspberries are left.  Let mixture simmer on low heat for 5 minutes.  Let cool and strain through a fine mesh strainer.  Bottle and refrigerate. 

* Fresh fruit syrups don't last as long because of the addition of fruit.  Make sure you use it up with in 2 weeks at the latest, but the sooner the better.  If you don't plan on using your fruit syrups that quickly add a ounce of over proof vodka (50%) for every 2 cups of syrup.  This will give your fruit syrups a bit longer of a shelf life.  I'll admit, I don't always use fresh fruit.  Frozen is more of a practical solution for making fruit syrups year round.  No one will no the difference either.

Lapsang Souchong Syrup
- 1 Cup of hot brewed Lapsang Souchong Tea
- 1 Cup of Sugar

- Add tea and sugar to a pot over medium heat. Stir until sugar has completely dissolved.  Let cool, bottle and refrigerate. 

* If you leave the tea leaves in while making the syrup, make sure you strain before bottling.  I get all my tea from Silk Road here in Victoria.

I hope this blog post was helpful to any just discovering their love for cocktails.  Stay tuned for my next blog post for beginner mixologists which will take you through all the small nuances of making drinks.  As well as recipes that will utilize the above syrups.  Thanks again for visiting,  following me on Twitter @spirit_imbibing for blog update notifications and links to other great cocktail/bartending resources. 

Thursday 8 September 2011

Classic Cocktail of The Month: The Last Word

This month's cocktail is a rediscovered classic.  Although it is as old as the Sidecar and Margarita, you won't find it on a drink list of any establishment with a cocktail program short of suburb.  It was first published in 1951 by Ted Saucier.  Ted credits The Last Word as a creation of Fred Fogerty of the Detroit Athletic Club.  Established in 1887 the Detroit Athletic Club is a posh hangout for the wealthy upper class. While cocktails may not be the focus of the DAC, this prohibition-era cocktail has ensured a place on the bartending map for Detroit.  The Last Word was later unearthed in 2004 by Murray Stetson, formerly of Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle.  While looking through old cocktail books in search of some under appreciated classics for the menu of Zig Zag, Murray stumbled upon The Last Word.  Since 2004 The Last Word has become the quintessential cocktail of the Evergreen state.

While one's initial thoughts conjured by the idea of gin, chartreuse, maraschino and lime may be off putting, The Last Word is really a symphony of harmony.  The equilibrium approach to four very potent ingredients in The Last Word demonstrates the ideal example of balance in a cocktail.

The Last Word
- 0.75 oz Gin
- 0.75 oz Green Chartreuse
- 0.75 oz Maraschino Liqueur
- 0.75 oz Lime Juice

- Add all ingredients to shaker
- Add ice and shake
- Double Strain into chilled cocktail glass
- No Garnish Necessary

In my variation of The Last word I demonstrate how keeping the same general formula - spirit, herbal liqueur, sweet liqueur and citric- can result in an equally pleasing cocktail.

Bird Is The Word
- 0.75 oz Black Grouse Scotch
- 0.75 oz Yellow Chartreuse
- 0.75 oz St. Germain
- 0.75 oz Lemon Juice

- Add all ingredients to shaker
- Add ice and shake
- Double Strain into chilled cocktail glass
- Garnish with lemon twist